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How knowledge of the FMCRs will help truck accident lawyers

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 12th, 2014

Lawyers litigating these cases must inquire whether the trucker and safety director understand federal safety rules

FMCSR Pocketbook

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) are the binding regulations that govern all truck and bus companies and all drivers of commercial motor vehicles. They are the minimum safety standards that must be met in order to lawfully operate a commercial vehicle.

They are the bible, so to speak, for lawyers litigating truck accident and bus accident cases.  They are the rules of the road.

So it helps tremendously when a lawyer who accepts a truck or bus accident case actually sits down and takes the time to understand the rules and how they apply.

These safety regulations  exist to protect the public – and  commercial drivers. One of the FMCSRs requires that truck drivers and bus drivers have knowledge of the regulations. Under §383.111, truckers must know very basic things, such as how to effectively and safely operate the semi-truck.  Ignorance, in other words, is not an excuse.

But they’re also required to have knowledge of regulations relating to bad weather; performing proper pre-trip inspections; knowledge of hazardous materials and how to transport them; fatigue and much more.

Ironically, in my experiences successfully litigating over 300 truck accident cases, it is a rare driver actually has adequate knowledge about the rules. In fact, most truck drivers I’ve deposed can’t even answer basic questions related to §392 of the FMCSRs, which directly relate to driving semi-trucks and motor coaches.

Even more alarming is how few safety directors have adequate knowledge of the regulations.  From my own experience as an attorney, I’ve found that far too many trucking company safety directors seem to exist to help these companies and drivers violate these rules, rather than to ensure compliance with them.

Safety directors are charged with overseeing the safety and compliance of the entire motor carrier company. These people are charged with maintaining a company-wide system that ensures safety and observation of the regulations. So it stands to reason that a jury would find it incredibly scary when the person in charge of safety rules doesn’t actually know anything about these safety rules (On a related note, take a look at our recent blog on 5 ways to depose a trucking company’s safety director).

So how can a truck accident attorney apply an understanding of these rules to help in a serious truck accident injury case?

For starters, truck drivers must sign a document that says they agree to familiarize themselves with the FMCSRs. The page they sign is the first page in the FMCSR Pocketbook that they receive when they’re hired by a truck or bus company. The truck company also has to sign the page.

Once the document is signed, it must be kept inside the driver’s qualification file.  This item is a critical, as it puts the trucker and the trucking company in the position of having imputed knowledge and understanding of these public safety rules. Safety is directly related to knowledge.

And lack of knowledge of these rules will inevitably lead to serious truck accidents.

Injury attorneys must ask truckers whether they have signed this document during the deposition. Ask the safety director whether the company signed it during their deposition. If the trucker answers in the affirmative, then ask about the rules. Probe the trucker’s relevant knowledge as it applies to the crash — after all, he just admitted to signing a document verifying he would be familiar with the FMCSRs.

But what if they say no, they haven’t signed the document? That might even be better for you when litigating  a truck accident case. It shows that the trucking company that caused the wreck isn’t playing by the rules. It shows that the trucking company is cutting corners on safety and hurting or killing people.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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